Bad blood between Gortat and Lopez?

Orlando Magic center Marcin Gortat of Poland (13) smiles while warming up against the Charlotte Bobcats during their NBA basketball game in Charlotte, North Carolina January 23, 2010. REUTERS/Chris Keane (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Yes, it’s a slow news time in the NBA, but this story is kind of interesting. The “Polish Hammer” is outspoken, and he had a lot to say when asked about Robin Lopez and his arrival in Phoenix.

Marcin said that on his first day in Phoenix he asked Robin if practice started on the court or with a video session. Robin told Marcin that he didn’t know so Gortat went to the gym while Lopez went to watch video. According to Gortat, a coach came to get him and asked why he was late and Marcin said that he had asked Robin and was told he didn’t know where practice was starting. The coach said everyone knew where they were supposed to be. Marcin took that as a sign of where things stood between himself and Lopez.

Gortat went on to talk about the opportunity that Lopez had to earn and keep the starting job.

“This guy (Lopez) had such a big chance, such a big opportunity, to play in the best league. When I was Orlando, playing behind Dwight (Howard), I was praying to get a chance to play and he (Lopez) has had this chance for two years and he didn’t take.

So I thought, when you don’t want it, there will be 50 persons behind you, waiting to take this chance, and then I came by and I took (it). Sorry, that’s business, that’s life.”

After joining the Suns, he averaged 13.0 points (on 56% shooting) to go along with 9.3 rebounds in just under 30 minutes of playing time. It doesn’t appear that he’ll be giving up the starting spot in Phoenix anytime soon.

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Five players who could be on the move

Marc Stein lists five “big” names who could be on the move as the NBA trade season begins in earnest. Those names are: Andre Miller, Nate Robinson, Brandon Bass, Marcin Gortat and Ramon Sessions. Here’s part of Stein’s writeup on Miller:

Miller might actually find it easier to operate in Portland’s offense with Oden off the floor and less of an emphasis on throwing the ball inside. Harsh as that sounds, given Oden’s unquestioned likability and hideous luck, Miller and Roy appeared to be the main sufferers from the lack of offensive flow that has plagued Portland this season as Oden’s role expanded. If the Blazers open things up a bit more with Oden sidelined, as Roy envisions, that could really help Miller.

Yet the reality remains that Miller and Roy are an iffy tag team because both need to see so much of the ball to be effective, which explains why Miller has started only nine games. There’s this, too: While NBA front-office sources say there is considerable outside interest in young (and mostly forgotten) Portland guard Jerryd Bayless, Miller’s more substantial salary — $6.7 million to Bayless’ $2.1 million — would probably bring a bigger talent payoff in a trade.

“They need a Mo Williams-type to play with Brandon Roy,” said one rival team executive in the West. “They need a shooter to play off him.”

Stein suggests that both Miller and Sessions were signed so that the Blazers and T-Wolves would have tradeable assets that they can “flip” at some point during the season. Sessions supposedly had an opportunity to play for the Knicks on a one-year deal and probably should have done just that. Chris Duhon is struggling, so it’s likely that Sessions would be the starter by now, and with his ability, he could post some nice numbers in Mike D’Antoni’s system. The Knicks aren’t going to trade for Sessions now because his contract would eat into their projected cap space next summer.

Surprisingly, Orlando matches offer sheet for Gortat

When the Mavs signed backup center Marcin Gortat, it seemed like a done deal that the Magic would let him go. But Orlando elected to match the offer.

The Orlando Magic will keep Marcin Gortat by matching the five-year, $34-million offer sheet extended to him by the Dallas Mavericks, the Orlando Sentinel first reported Monday.

“Having quality big men is an absolute must in our league, and Marcin has worked very hard to fit into that category,” Magic general manager Otis Smith said in a statement. “He provides tremendous depth to our frontcourt and we’re happy to bring him back.”

Gortat’s agent, Guy Zucker, told the Dallas Morning News his player is “very, very disappointed.”
The decision is a bold and costly one for the Magic, who will plunge further into luxury-tax territory than many rivals anticipated after their recent trade for Vince Carter by first signing Brandon Bass away from Dallas to a four-year deal worth a reported $18 million and then matching on Gortat.

Retaining Gortat and adding Bass will likely take the Magic’s payroll into the $80 million range for next season, which would force Orlando to cut a luxury-tax check of more than $10 million in July 2010 barring roster moves between now and June 30 of next year to lower that figure.

I don’t get it. They’re willing to give Gortat almost $5 million a season, but they refused to give Hedo Turkoglu — the player mainly responsible for handling and distributing the ball during the Magic’s run to the Finals — the $10 million per season that he was asking for? I don’t mind the Gortat signing by itself, but the Magic may have ruined a good thing by trading for Vince Carter (and in the process, trading away Courtney Lee) and letting Turkoglu get away. Clearly, they are willing to spend — why not keep the most consistent star and main ball handler from last year’s conference champs?

But back to Gortat. It’s understandable why he would be upset. He was penciled in as the starter for the Mavs, but now he has to play behind Dwight Howard for the foreseeable future, limiting the upside of his next contract. But whining through his agent isn’t going to do him any good, is it?

The Magic really screwed the Mavs over on this one. They took their sweet time to match Gortat’s offer sheet, and at the same time they agreed to terms with Brandon Bass, ensuring that Dallas wasn’t going to be able to sign either player. This is a huge blow to the Mavs’ title hopes and is more evidence that the NBA should shorten the time span for a team to match an offer sheet for a restricted free agent.

Artest to L.A., Ariza to Houston

In a surprising sequence of events, Ron Artest has agreed to a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, while Trevor Ariza is headed to Houston with a five-year deal. Both contracts are of the mid-level variety, which are expected to start at about $5.8 million per season.

J.A. Adande writes…

Just as telling is the Lakers’ decision to go with Artest instead of younger Trevor Ariza. It shows they’re putting everything into these next three years and not worrying too much about the future. Ariza would have wanted a five-year contract; Artest was willing to come for three. The end of Artest’s contract coincides with the reported opt-out clause for Bryant. We don’t know whether Kobe will choose to leave in 2012, but we do know this: He’ll be 33 that summer, turning 34 in August. The three years with Artest probably represent Bryant’s last stages of physical superiority over the opposition. He’ll still be ahead of the pack in knowledge and determination, but we’ve already seen some slipping in his athletic ability and it will only decline from here.

So the Lakers are thinking short-term and trying to squeeze in a couple more championships right now. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak was even willing to increase his roster’s average age and let one of his best acquisitions walk away, two things general managers are generally loath to do.

Artest gives the Lakers the same qualities as Ariza — perimeter defense and toughness — plus the ability to get his own shot, and a dash of crazy. Ariza wound up in Artest’s old spot in Houston, where he’s actually a better fit. With Yao Ming’s career on pause — at best — the Rockets have to position themselves to be good in a couple of years, perhaps by bringing in a major free agent in 2010 and/or having Yao return from treatment on his feet that might hinder him for the better part of two seasons. Amazing how quickly a team that seemed on the rise in these playoffs now finds itself retooling.

We’ll never know if Ariza was just playing hardball when he expressed frustration that the Lakers wouldn’t offer more than the mid-level because the team called his bluff and moved on. I like this signing for the Rockets, who were originally interested in Orlando big man Marcin Gortat. But when the “Polish Hammer” reportedly made a verbal agreement to join the Mavs, the Rockets moved on to the 24-year-old Ariza.

Artest is a little nutty, and he has the potential to sabotage the Lakers’ season, but it’s not like the team is championship-caliber because they have great chemistry. They don’t. They have more talent than anyone, and when Ariza became irritated with the Lakers’ unwillingness to go over the mid-level, they quickly moved on to their backup plan. Artest will accept his role in L.A. and should fit in just fine, at least defensively. But three years is a long time for him to behave; I expect he’ll have at least one dust up before it’s all said and done.

NBA Free Agency Rumors: Turk, Charlie V, Millsap and more

Pistons, Blazers interested in Hedo Turkoglu.

The Oregonian reports Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard and assistant general manager Tom Penn called agent Lon Babby last night to begin the courtship of Hedo Turkoglu.

With Carlos Boozer out of the picture, an NBA source tells the Chicago Sun-Times that Turkoglu is now the Pistons’ first choice in free agency.

While the Blazers’ interest has long been rumored, Detroit’s interest is a little surprising. They already have a very good small forward on the roster in Tayshaun Prince, so unless they’re planning to play Turkoglu at the four, someone is going to lose some minutes. Of the two teams, the Pistons have more cap space, so if they want him, they can get him. (And what about Ben Gordon?)

Charlie V ahead of Turkoglu on the Pistons’ wishlist?

Chicago’s Ben Gordon remains the backcourt player deeply coveted by the Pistons, but the prospect of a Gordon-and-Villanueva combo likely would be slightly cheaper than trying to sign Gordon and Turkoglu with Detroit’s nearly $19 million in projected salary-cap space.

The Pistons may also be interested in Paul Millsap, but anytime a team signs a restricted free agent to an offer sheet, that money is tied up for a week while his current team decides to match. That makes signing an RFA a dicey prospect.

I wonder if the Bucks are regretting letting Villanueva given the amount of interest he’s generating from their division rivals (Detroit and Cleveland).

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